Billy Strings is starting to make a mark in Bend. The 24-year-old Nashville flatpicker born William Apostol, originally from Michigan, rocked Volcanic Theatre Pub in August with his mix of old-school bluegrass chops and punk-rock energy. He also was slated to perform at the canceled Sisters Folk Festival this year, but it looks like he’ll make up for that when he returns to Volcanic on Thursday on tour behind his debut full-length “Turmoil & Tinfoil” with Whiskey Shivers (whose bassist Andrew VanVoorhees hails from Prineville) and Trout Steak Revival.
Strings’ heavy-metal past often gets touted in features and interviews, and this could give you the wrong idea about “Turmoil & Tinfoil.” But these 12 songs are steeped in the bluegrass and roots traditions Strings learned from his musician father, who in turn learned from his father, who learned from his. There are instrumental reels such as the traditional “Salty Sheep,” jaw harp-infused Delta blues (“Living Like an Animal”) and heartfelt country (“All of Tomorrow”).
Many of the songs turn into extended instrumental duels among Strings’ core instrumentalists (mandolinist Drew Matulich, banjoist Billy Failing and bassist Brad Tucker), starting with the album-opening, one-two punch of “On the Line” and the almost 10-minute “Meet Me at the Creek.” The title track is perhaps the most musically ambitious piece here, with occasional vocals punctuating the shifting rhythms and rapid-fire acoustic licks.
The song also weaves in those metal influences mentioned earlier, but in subtle ways: the minor-key curly-cue that resolves the main riff, the stomping stop-start of the bridge. Elsewhere, he somehow manages to ape a fully electrified Hendrix on an acoustic guitar in sections of “Meet Me at the Creek,” and pushes his powerful voice to an exuberant scream on the uplifting “Doin’ Things Right.” It’s really about the energy Strings brings to this material.
Further listens reveal a sharp lyrical sense, too. The affecting “While I’m Waiting Here” marries a prison heartbreak tale to a lilting chord progression. “Dealing Despair,” a response to recent police violence around the country, may be his finest lyrical moment, with Strings snarling the vitriolic hook: “You know I don’t want your opinion, I just want to blow out your brain.”
Whiskey Shivers, Trout Steak Revival, Billy Strings: 8 p.m. Thursday; $17 plus fees in advance, $20 at the door; Volcanic Theatre Pub, 70 SW Century Drive, Bend; volcancitheatrepub.com or 541-323-1881.
— Brian McElhiney, The Bulletin